About Virtual Tours And Why I Hate Them

Virtual Tours have become the new “got to have” tool in the agent’s arsenal and every client wants their house featured in a virtual tour. I hate the virtual tour packages that are popular today. I always have and I always will. There are two types of virtual tours that I see most often. The first is a set of still photographs created in a slideshow that looks like a crappy PowerPoint slideshow complete with annoying background music that grates on your nerves and announces to all your co-workers that you are loafing on the job if you have your PC’s volume set too high. The second virtual tour, I actually don’t mind so much, and that is a series of photos, shot through a fisheye lens and stitched together to look like a 3D representation of your house and you can look around it similar to Google Maps Street View.

The Crappy PowerPoint Looking Virtual Tour

These virtual tours were created so agents can brag about offering a virtual tour without actually having to pay for a decent one. They are nothing more than still photographs assembled in a slideshow, complete with amateur transitions and grating background music. Next to the slideshow are links about the property’s features. Agents should be ashamed selling these things as virtual tours. They look cheap, take a while to load, and may require plug-ins to work. Adding plug-ins limits your audience, especially unknown third-party Internet browser plug-ins. Once they’re running, they offer nothing that wasn’t already seen in the MLS listing. They just rearranged them a little and added some horrific soundtrack. In my opinion, a dedicated web page would be better than this. A web page could have all the photos, links, maps, etc. You could link to it in your MLS listing, like you would a Virtual Tour, give it a memorable address, and best of all, it’s searchable by Google. My biggest problem with these virtual tours is that they look cheap and don’t offer anything new to the listing.

The Fisheye 3D Virtual Tour

These virtual tours actually do give you a feeling of touring the house, or at least a few rooms. I actually like these, but there are some serious problems with them. I don’t like the virtual tours that spin you around. If you have a big monitor like I do, nausea and dizziness could set in if you watch it for too long. I would prefer they start the tour without the spinning. You can move your mouse around to explore it at your own pace. Besides panning left and right, you can look up and down too. With limited success, you can zoom in and out, but the picture becomes grainy fast, limiting it’s value. However, it does give you a spacial sense of being there. However, there are some drawbacks. Users with slow Internet connections will have to wait for images to load. Another disadvantage is that the spinning room doesn’t allow you to focus on features or highlight anything special about the house. As a matter of fact, all beneficial features of the house get lost. Also, to create a 360, 3D panorama, you have to use a fisheye lens that distorts the image so that the images can be stitched together creating a visual bubble effect. Distorted pictures distract the viewer from the features that would sell the house. When you create tours like this, even the unflattering features of the house are shown. Not every part of a room is pretty.

What’s Better Than A Virtual Tour? Video Tours!

Think about it. What would be better than filming the real estate agent giving a walk-through tour of the home. The agent could point out the features, benefits and walk through the best parts of the house while discussing its greatest assets. Important messages could be highlighted with text overlaid in the video to emphasize benefits and features that the agent is talking about. To me, this would complement the MLS listing, any on-line ads and all printed materials.

I don’t think virtual tours sell houses, they just sell agents. Agents like using them to land listings because clients think they’re valuable. However, I believe that video tours would do a better job of selling houses.

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About Bill Petrey, Realtor

Bill Petrey, the CEO and Founder of AgentHarvest, has been written about in the Los Angeles Times, Inman News, AOL Real Estate, and Inman Next, among others. He founded AgentHarvest for the sole purpose of making the process of finding a good Realtor better and easier. Bill Petrey is an author and editor of both The AgentHarvest Blog, Real Examples of Really Rotten Realty Blog, and the creator of Really Rotten Realty.

17 thoughts on “About Virtual Tours And Why I Hate Them

  1. Andy:
    Sorry, I’m not a Skype subscriber yet. I’ll check out your link to see how it looks. Thanks for commenting.

  2. We have shopped for a house twice in the past 6 years, and I don’t think that virtual tours or videos are very essential at all. A good photo of each room is plenty.

    Videos almost show too much. And I think that holding back a little bit tends to build curiosity to come and see a place.


  3. M. D.
    You’re so right. You don’t want to answer every question before the buyer sees the house. The whole point of a mls listing, flyer or virtual tour is to attract the buyer to the house. I personally think still photos, done properly, with attention to details and lighting, are the best lure to get foot traffic into a home. Worst of all, some virtual tours are so traffic intensive that I’ve lost patients and moved on before the page completely assembled.

    Once you get over the wow factor of a virtual tour, you realize that most of them add little more value than a still photo. Most virtual tours are reconstituted still photos slowly panned. What value is that? Maybe if there were a narrative, describing the house’s features, to accompany it, rather than some canned elevator music playing in the background I may have a bit more respect for it than I do. I’m sure it’s out there, but I haven’t come across it yet.

    Thanks so much for your comment.

    Bill Petrey

  4. I don’t disagree with a lot of what you have to say, but I know that a few years ago when I was looking for a property in Florida, the virtual tours that were available were a huge time saver for me. As a buyer, and especially as a “remote” buyer, it was incredibly helpful to get some idea of what the place really looked like inside, and a feel for the flow of movement in the house.

    I guess what it boils down to is that it can be done poorly and it can be done well. Perhaps I was just lucky that I happened upon mostly high-quality virtual tours. Only one of them would I describe as fitting your “fisheye 3d” look. And I must admit, that one was just as vertigo-inducing as you describe!

    • Allen:
      If done well, they are a great way to remotely preview a home, however most are not done well and fall short of basic still photos. I would prefer a narration to ANY canned Muzak that they play in the background. Why they think canned music makes a great virtual tour is beyond me.

  5. Sorry, not sure why I got cut off in mid comment there. That last paragraph was supposed to end with:

    …just as vertigo-inducing as you describe!

  6. Good God, yes! That’s the one thing that annoyed the hell out of me when I was going through a lot of them. It seemed like two thirds of them were going to the same rent-a-muzak operation for the music. You’re right, the ones that weren’t annoying were the ones with either total silence or the agent doing a simple voice-over description of what you’re seeing.

    My point is that still photographs are almost never as good at giving you a feel for what it’s like to *live* in the house and move around inside it as the virtual walkthroughs. But again, you’re correct — an actual video tour is probably the optimal solution.

    And finally, like Denis Leary used to say: “that’s just my opinion; I could be wrong.”


    • Allen:
      Agreed! However, I’ll take great photos over a lousy virtual tour any day. However, you would do far better with both if both were done right. The biggest limitation with virtual tours is trying to get the darn thing to load up, especially on a 3G iPad. Patience only goes so far.

  7. Hi Bill,

    As a Virtual Tour provider in Australia, I was surprised to see your “Negative” article on Virtual Tours, which was ultimateley aimed at promoting the more Agent Ego driven, “Hey it’s me, the Agent” Video Tour.

    You people have obviously not seen the best Virtual Tours available from RTV – called their Fusion System (Luanched July 2012) , these virtual tours are like no other and are a multi player that you can add 360 spins, High Def and HDR photos,interactive Floor Plans, on sceen text information, the realtors details, photo, banner, optional “professional” Voice Over (just like a radio add), load quickly, are viewable on all ipads and smartphones….plus much more.

    There is an old saying Bill, if you get a bad steak, you don’t stop eating meat, you get another butcher !

    The Virtual Tour technology is changing at a rapid rate and it appears this article is now old, written at least 2 years ago….The Times Have Changed.. As a virtual tour provider myself, who has several happy clients using the above RTV Fusion System, its important to remember that you will always achieve far better results if you get a professional to do the work…Honestly, the do it yourself approach is yesterday..with Images that are too dark, too light, wrong angle, not workshopped and so on…this does no justice to the vendor (Home Seller) nor the industry itself.

    Photos are great, but just not enough on their own anymore and a Virtual Tour is a perfect way to showcase the House in its entirety,is far more impressive, is an open house 24/7 – 365 days of the year, will attract 40% more interest in the house having a Virtual Tour and costs less than a local newspaper add !

    In the USA, if you don’t use a virtual tour to sell a property then, the prospective buyers will skip straight over you and move to the next house with a Virtual Tour, why?..because they Save Time !….they also want to be engaged, they want to go on the tour, they want to get involved and a Virtual Tour that is handled by a Professional from the beginning, not an amatuer Agent who thinks he is a Photographer, will impress, create buyer competition and sell the house faster.

    Yes Video is good, but people are not interested in seeing the Agent in the clip, they want to see the house..they will see the Agent plenty of times through the buying process and when they go see the house in person..Video is more expensive, takes longer to load and does not show the house as comprehensiveley as a virtual tour can…but is certainly more impressive that “just” having photos…you need to stand out in the crowd, make a statement and This Is About Virtual Tours and Why I Love Them !

  8. Greg,

    In 2013, I’m still seeing really bad virtual tours of the slideshow variety. As a potential buyer, those bother me. They’re a huge waste of time. Now I don’t bother looking at any virtual tours, because that’s what I’ve come to expect. When I think “virtual tour”, I think “interactive” or at least “comprehensive” yet none of the “tours” I’ve come across have lived up to my expectations. Granted, I live in Maine, which is where the cutting edge goes to rust, but there are enough wealthy people looking for summer homes here that I’d expect more of an investment.

  9. Hey guys,

    I provide real virtual tours for Kansas City. I completely agree about the slide show tours with Kenny g music.


  10. I was just surfing the net and I came across with your website.
    I have to tell you that virtual tours are just an extra marketing channel, and as any marketing channel
    it could be good or bad, depending of the quality of work performed.
    Anybody can take a virtual tour just like anybody can take a picture using their smart phones or personal cameras, but there are companies out there that specialize on it and they have the right professional training, experience, technology and equipment to take virtual tours that sells to the next high level.
    I thing the big problems right here is that it does not feed every ones budget sometimes, you get what you have paid for!
    in conclusion, if you hate them you probably got the worse experience, except that I will be honest, if you are a person that suffers from vertigo or gets really easy nausea for spinning images I would recommend you to take anti nausea medicine before you even try to watch any of them.

    In total conclusion, they are great marketing tool if it is well created.
    and it is bad if it is bad created.
    Just like any form of advertising it could be bad or really good depending of the level of creation right?

    • Silvia:
      Well said. You do get what you pay for. However, it seems that most agents are cheap. When done well, and as a marketing piece that stands on it’s own, it does have value. But, when done as something to have just to show clients that they offer virtual tours, it doesn’t add value.

  11. Agents don’t watch virtual tours. They only look at pictures.
    They might work on really nice houses.

    But I did an experiment in the MLS, and put up a video tour on a webpage with ip address logging. The only visitors I had were the google web crawlers.

    Still, I offer video walkthroughs so the lazy agents can sort of preview the house without getting off their ……

    • Ken:
      That’s true, but it’s nice to send the client to help them remember the house they saw that day. And it sets that house apart from all the other houses that all ran together that they saw that day. The biggest advantage of virtual tours is buyers looking for houses on their own.

  12. I also find virtual and video tours actually pretty useless. My clients prefer that I do a standard floor plan along with photos. It gives the prospective buyer/tenant the ability to “connect the dots” so to speak. Looking at the tours an average person has no clue to get a feel/flow of the property.

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